When Is It Finally Time to Retire Your Forklift?

Photo courtesy of Pyroban via Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Pyroban via Wikimedia Commons

Every business wants to get the most out of its forklifts as it possibly can. But at a certain point, the costs of keeping an aged forklift operating can outweigh the costs of replacing it.

For a leased forklift, the answer of when to say goodbye is obvious: When the leasing agreement expires, the forklift can be traded in for another more efficient vehicle.

But if a business owns the vehicle, determining the optimal time to retire a forklift can be a difficult decision. The correct answer lies in determining when the vehicle has reached the end of its “economic life”.

Five Factors to Consider

A number of factors will contribute to this decision, including its total hours on the job, the business’s operating conditions, utilization rates, maintenance expenses, and the vehicle’s productivity.

Cars and trucks have odometers that can tell owners when it’s time to begin shopping for a new vehicle. Typically, that’s somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 miles for most normal drivers.

For forklifts, it’s not miles traveled that’s the key indicator, but the hours on the job. The typical forklift engine will last anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 hours although some will burn out sooner while others will last longer.

Electric vs Gas-Powered

Battery-powered forklifts tend to last longer than those powered by internal combustion engines (although typically you will pay more on the front end when you buy an electric forklift). But operating conditions also can have a significant impact on a forklift’s useful life.

But operating conditions also can have a significant impact on a forklift’s useful life. Vehicles that work mostly in indoor environments that are dry and relatively clean typically will last longer than forklifts that work outdoors, are exposed to temperature extremes, or work on rugged roads or haul messy loads that can mess up their engines and hydraulic masts.

Taking It to the Limit

Another consideration is maintenance. Vehicles that follow a properly planned and managed maintenance schedule have a higher likelihood of staying on the job longer. Being proactive on maintenance is one of the most effective ways to extend the economic life of a forklift.

A fourth factor is how the forklift is used. Vehicles that are frequently pushed to their load limits or are used continuously over back-to-back shifts are more likely to wear out sooner.

In some instances, it is possible to extend the economic life of forklift that is heavily utilized by “locking out” high mileage forklifts and turning to a low-utilization vehicle instead in order to allow your forklift fleet to wear down at the same rate.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

The point at which to replace a forklift is when its maintenance costs outweigh the benefits of keeping an older forklift going.

Generally, during the first few years, maintenance costs of a forklift will be lower. The vehicle may even still be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. But after several thousand hours of operation — and once the warranty expires — maintenance and repair costs tend to shoot up.

A good rule of thumb is to pay attention to the number of repairs a vehicle has during a 12-month period. If it is higher than four, it may be time to consider replacement.

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